In traditional marital vows, we promise to love, honour and care for our spouse until death do us part. But, when we take these vows, we rarely think about becoming a caregiver for our spouse later in life.
We all look forward to our later years, hoping to experience a relaxing retirement with the person we love. However, this doesn’t always eventuate, as one spouse may become ill and require constant care. In this instance the promise of ‘death do us part’ can feel like a stressful responsibility rather than a privilege.
Spousal caregivers commonly experience greater levels of stress than other caregivers because they will typically have to care for their spouse 24/7. This responsibility has a significant impact on the caregiver’s life and can make it difficult for them to see family and friends, go to work, attend social events and even look after their own health. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression, as well as impacting the physical health of the caregiver.
The following are some tips that may be useful for spousal caregivers in maintaining their physical and mental health.
- Establish realistic expectations. Don’t try to care for your spouse completely by yourself, as this is one way to lead to burn out. Instead, consider if there are other close friends and family members who may be willing to help with caregiving. Think about their strengths and how they could use these to contribute to the daily caregiving routine.
- Try to maintain friendships no matter how busy you are. It’s important to have a network of people around to support you. These people don’t necessarily have to be helping with the caregiving routine; socialising can be just as important to ensure you do not become isolated.
- While you may be busy with your caregiving routine, it’s important to regularly include respite time for yourself. Plan to go out and do something that you enjoy a few times a week – even just for an hour or so.
- Acknowledge your range of emotions and know that it’s OK to feel negative emotions such as sadness, guilt, anger and frustration. If it becomes too much and you feel like you are not coping, seek assistance from a professional.
- Make sure you are looking after your own physical health and attending any medical appointments – no matter how busy you are. Ensure you are taking care of yourself as well as your loved one to avoid caregiver burnout.
- Try to spend time together with your loved one that’s not part of the caregiving routine. If you used to enjoy going to the movies, going for walks in the park, or playing board together, it’s important to try to continue to do these things – even if you have to modify the activity to suit the abilities of the person who requires care. This will help to maintain a sense of normality for both people.
- Focus on the things that your spouse can still do, so that you can involve them in meaningful activities and give them a sense of purpose. Include them in decision making as much as you can.
- Stick to a routine with a daily schedule that outlines the necessary tasks for the day to ensure you maintain a sense of control and calm. Also, be sure to include time for pleasurable activities.
- Write down a list of tasks that others could help you with. This means that you will always be prepared if a relative of friend offers to help. Ensure you always accept any offers of help, and tell them exactly what you need them to do.
- Look into community resources that may be available to you. There may be local adult day programs that could provide you with some respite on a regular basis.
- Find a support group for spousal caregivers in your area. This can provide a safe space where you can talk openly about your struggles and concerns in a non-judgemental environment full of others who are in the same situation.
Spousal caregivers face unique challenges that are different from those of other caregivers. It can be particularly difficult for spousal caregivers to cope, and it is important to seek help if they are feeling overwhelmed. If you’re currently caring for a spouse, or if you think you will be in the near future, it’s important to find out relevant information on the support available for carers. If you want to find out more about the content of this blog, and how our courses or workshops may be able to help you as a carer, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can also find lots of useful articles and advice on our Facebook Page.